The region of Semna is 15 miles south of Wadi Halfa and is situated where rocks cross the Nile narrowing its flow—the Semna Cataract.
Semna was a fortified area established in the reign of Senusret I (1965–1920 BC) on the west bank of the Nile at the southern end of a series of Middle Kingdom fortresses founded during the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt (1985–1795 BC) in the Second-Cataract area of Lower Nubia. There are three forts at Semna: Semna West (Semna Gharb), Semna East (Semna Sherq, also called Kummeh or Kumma), and Semna South (Semna Gubli). The forts to the east and west of the Semna Cataract are Semna East and West, respectively; Semna South is approximately one kilometre south of Semna West on the west bank of the Nile.
The Semna gorge, at the southern edge of ancient Egypt, was the narrowest part of the Nile valley. At this strategic location, it was where the 12th Dynasty pharaohs built a cluster of four mudbrick fortresses: Semna, Kumma, Semna South and Uronarti — all covered by the waters of Lake Nasser since the completion of the Aswan Dam in 1971.
Location of Semna
Semna South is located along one of the narrowest parts of the Nile River, south of Wadi Halfa and north of Abri.
The rectangular Kumma fortress, the L-shaped Semna fortress (on the opposite bank) and the smaller square fortress of Semna South were each investigated by the American archaeologist George Reisner in 1924 and 1928. Semna and Kumma also included the remains of temples, houses and cemeteries dating to the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC), which would have been roughly contemporary with such lower Nubian towns as Amara West and Sesebisudla, when the second cataract region had become part of an Egyptian’ empire’, rather than simply a frontier zone.
The fort had several advanced features – the mudbrick walls were reinforced with logs, doubly fortified gates, and a fortified corridor down to the Nile, allowing ready access to water supplies. The logs increased the vulnerability to fire, and traces of fires can be seen on the walls.
Semna South Fort
The Egyptian state placed great importance on control of Nubia and its goods. As Reisner (1929) notes, “the southern products, the ebony, the ivory, the pelts, the incense and resin, the ostrich feathers, the black slaves, were as much desired by the kings of the Middle Kingdom as by their forebears”. Thus, forts were built along the Nile to protect the waterway from nomadic tribes and facilitate the flow of Nubian goods into Egypt. As a 12th Dynasty fort, Semna South is one of 17 the Middle Kingdom Egyptian forts in Nubia built to control trade traffic along the Nile.
Forts surrounding Semna South were excavated by the Joint Egyptian Expedition of Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the 1920s. Still, Semna South was not formally excavated until the late 1950s. The initial excavation of the fort was directed by Jean Vercoutter and Sayed Thabit Hassan Thabit with the Sudan Antiquities Service from 1956-1957. Further excavations of the defence and an adjacent cemetery were conducted by the Oriental Institute Expedition to Sudanese Nubia, under the direction of Dr Louis Vico Žabkar, in 1966-1968. Today, the human remains from Semna South are curated at Arizona State University, and the archaeological artefacts are curated at the University of Chicago Oriental Institute. (H. McDonald, personal communication, October 22, 2012).